Thursday, March 31, 2011

We tell ourselves stories in order to live

This post shares a title with a collection of nonfiction by Joan Didion, and the idea is fitting for Homeboy Industries. Sometimes it seems like the biggest hurdle for the young people who come here is to formulate for themselves a new story of who they are. Getting their driver’s license, their GED, continuing to pass drug tests after years of substance abuse that felt necessary to survival; these are simple tasks compared to the Sisyphean challenge of creating a new narrative of what kind of a life they dare wish for. Homeboys and Homegirls are always the first to admit their mistakes, and usually the last to agree that they might deserve another chance.

This means that much of our work here goes beyond the practical- expunging legal records, removing facial tattoos- and into the intangible (and arguably more difficult) realm of being cheerleaders and life-story editors. One of the things you often hear is “I never thought I would...” When most people say this they are being facetious to some degree, but from the mouth of a Homeboy or Homegirl, the sentiment is literal. “I never thought I would graduate high school,” or even, “I never thought I would live to be eighteen.” This is why learning to tell a new story for themselves, the story of success, of healing, of moving into a different way of reacting to the world, is critical. It is absolutely what they must to do live, to stay away from the toxic stories and would-have-beens of their pasts.

This blog is a place for these chronicles of redemption and hope, and the occasional hiccup therein. It is a small window into what Homeboy Industries does, every day, as the largest and most effective gang-intervention program in the nation. We hope you will enjoy our stories, and we encourage you to come back often to read them.

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